In 1979, 16–year-old Jadav Payeng dreamt of reforesting an island in the Brahmaputra River near his home in India. More than 40 years later, 550 hectares of forest now is home for wildlife and lost biodiversity has been restored. He did that by planting one tree every day since 1979.
What is the vision that gives us hope as Christians? Advent is the season of looking at the big picture of God’s dream for the world and then at how that dream is being unveiled in human life now. It is like focusing the binoculars on a far horizon as the sun is rising and then turning to see in exquisite detail the smallest flower at our feet.
God’s dream is for a world fully reconciled with God, in which humans are also fully reconciled with one another and creation. It is described in the poetry of Isaiah—“they shall beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning-hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” (Isaiah 2:4b). It is seen in the attention Jesus gave to the most vulnerable around him. It is a life in community where grace, mercy and forgiveness live alongside justice, accountability and righteousness; where all human beings live in mutual respect and care; where the fullness of creation is respected and protected for the good of all people. It is a dream that captures our imaginations with its breadth and depth. It is an enticing vision in contrast to the deluge of stories of pain, struggle, violence, war, famine and abuse that surround us.
Advent calls us to see God’s dream and then shows us how it has begun on earth. Scripture shows us individual human participation as it tells us about Zechariah, Elizabeth, Mary and Joseph—ordinary people trying to live faithfully, invited to share in God’s plan through their children, who will speak in their turn to their own time and in their own unique ways. John the Baptist and Jesus will plant seeds of repentance, right living, healing and grace. They will point to the reign God intends through their teaching, preaching and life stories. Yet both begin their earthly lives at particular places, born to ordinary parents. With each birth a new chapter in the dream begins.
When the contrast between the big picture of God’s dream and the reality of today is too painful or filled with the despair of whether it can ever be realized, we are invited to see how it is nurtured and fed from small beginnings. The faithfulness of Zechariah and Elizabeth and the “yes” of Mary to Gabriel are enough to start. Every time a disciple of Jesus Christ says yes to God’s invitation, another seed is planted.
What are we waiting and longing for? We wait and long for the fulfilment of God’s reign in the world. In this Advent we rejoice in the promise given in the birth of Jesus, and in the promise affirmed in his death and resurrection, and look for opportunities to plant seeds in our time and place—to say yes to God’s call. Let us dream God’s vision for a transformed world, rejoice that it starts with ordinary people willing to risk, and then say yes to whatever God is calling us to now one day at a time.